Friday, October 3, 2014

An African Missionary Talks about the Global Pandemic

      There is a disease that is wreaking havoc in Africa.  It is causing unbelievable amounts of suffering in those who have been infected, as well as emotional damage to those who love them.  Living in Africa, I have had the great displeasure of witnessing first-hand those who are suffering from this disease.  I’ve seen some who are desperate for a cure for their condition, seeking urgently for some relief.  I’ve also seen those who are not yet aware of the severity of the disease.  These have no idea what is coming if they don’t receive treatment soon. 

     This disease has even made appearances in America and other parts of the world.  Efforts to contain it are extremely important, but it seems to spread so very easily.  I’m very concerned about what it means for the future.  A true pandemic may be inevitable and unavoidable. 

     Untreated, this disease has a 100% fatality rate.  Many treatments have been tried, but there is only one that is effective.  There was one man who seemed to have immunity to the disease.  Transfusions of this man’s blood have proven to be a remarkably effective treatment.  So far, the only known power for cure is in his blood.  Without it the disease will spread unchecked and result in untold devastation for countless people. 

     It is hard to admit, but I, myself, have been infected by the disease.  I am happy to report however, that the treatment has proven quite effective in my life.  For this reason, I am anxious to spread the cure to as many as possible. 

     By now you realize that I’m not talking about Ebola, AIDS, bird-flu, swine-flu, anthrax, or any similar disease.  The disease to which I refer is much deadlier, and much more widespread.  It is sin.  All adults have been infected (Romans 3:23).  It is ultimately fatal (Romans 6:23).  The only cure is the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7), and healing can be found nowhere else (Acts 4:12). 

     This knowledge is why I am an evangelist, and why I think you should be too.  I don’t mean that you have to stand in a pulpit, or be on a church payroll.  I only mean that you should be doing what is in your power to spread the word to those who are within your realm of influence.  If you knew the cure to Ebola, would you keep it from your friend who was infected?  How much more then should you share the life-giving knowledge that can rescue others from the death that comes from sin?

     I am not afraid of Ebola.  I am not afraid of terrorists.  I am not afraid of poisonous snakes.  I AM afraid of meeting my Lord unprepared (Matthew 10:28).  I AM afraid of what will happen to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:8), and I long and pray for their salvation (Romans 10:1). 

     The world is so distracting, but let’s do our best to keep the perspective that comes from setting out minds on things above rather than things on earth (Colossians 3:2). 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Should We "Quit Telling Children About Baptism?"

     I recently read an article proposing that we should “Quit Telling Children about Baptism.”  The author was concerned about the long-debated matter of when a person is old enough to be baptized.  I appreciate his heart, and where he is coming from, however I think the article is a little misdirected.  Several of my friends have shared this article so I wanted to present another perspective for consideration.

     The article opens with this:
How many times have you seen this scenario: a child is baptized (10, 11, 12-year old, whatever), but nothing really changes. There is no “rebirth.” There is no driving desire to know more about the Lord. In fact, within a few weeks you see this child in Bible class, slouching with arms folded, no Bible, and irritated that the teacher is calling on him to answer a question or participate.”  

     I’ve heard similar comments many times when discussing the appropriate age for baptism, and nobody thinks this is a good thing.  But what does AGE have to do with this???  I’ve seen just as many adults that have failed to continue with a “driving desire to know more about the Lord.”  By that reasoning, should we stop teaching anyone about baptism?  Of course not!  So let’s analyze the issue a little more. 


     Perhaps a part of the problem is a failure to really appreciate what baptism does and does not do.  Over the years as I have talked with those who are considering this important step, I’ve seen a good deal of confusion from them (as well as from their relatives who have already been baptized).  So let’s do a quick run-down.

What baptism DOES:
  •           It DOES wash away sins (Acts 22:16)
  •           It DOES place a person in Christ (Gal. 3:27)
  •           It DOES place a person in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)

     These things make baptism a critical part of the Christian life.  We must be careful to not throw the bathwater out with the baby, as it were.  It is certainly not the only thing that should be taught, but it must be taught.  As the story of the Ethiopian eunuch confirms, a part of preaching Christ is preaching baptism.  It is irresponsible to omit this from our teaching.

What baptism does NOT do:
  •  It does NOT magically enhance physical maturity – A 10 year-old boy does not become a man through baptism.  He becomes a Christian, not an adult.  Therefore some childish behavior will remain.  This is normal and to be expected.  Childishness is not necessarily immoral.
  •  It does NOT magically enhance spiritual maturity – It will not automatically make you a better person, regardless of your age.  Repentance and obedience make your behavior better, not baptism. 
  •  It does NOT make all of your problems go away – I’ve encountered a surprising number of people that had this expectation. 

     We must be careful to avoid believing that you must be “good enough” to be baptized, and placing restrictions to the kingdom that God has not.  Remember, we are saved because of how forgiven we are, not because of how good we are.  Our goodness is our grateful response to the love and mercy shown to us, not the basis for it.  A failure to understand this concept leads many in the world to struggle with how “good” people with basically moral behavior could possibly be lost.

     The author went on to say, “We should be seriously concerned when the sole reason for a child wanting to be baptized is that he or she feels guilty for sins committed.”  I am much more concerned when people are baptized WITHOUT feeling guilty for sins committed.  This lack of guilt is a key sign that someone is not ready to be baptized in my understanding


       Honestly, what gives us the right to condescendingly withhold baptism to an individual without considering their ideas and level of understanding simply because of their age?  We can see a pattern of ideas that baptized individuals in the Bible understood before they were baptized, but there is no age specified. 

     People mature at very different rates.  We understand this physically.  I’ve known people with a full beard in 9th grade and others who can’t grow one in their late 20’s.  Anyone who has spent time around youth sports has witnessed a wide range in physical development among children of the same age.  We understand it academically.  Some children have skipped ahead to school material far beyond their grade, while others sometimes have to repeat grades in order to grasp the material being taught.  There is even a television show that challenges adults with the question, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”  Many adult contestants come up short.

     Why then, is it so hard to understand that spiritually, children of the same age may be at very different points?   They may even be more spiritually mature than some adults.  My experience is not representative of all childhoods and neither is yours.  Each child is unique.  Just because you weren’t ready at ______ age, doesn’t mean that nobody is.  Just because ______ was the right age for you doesn’t mean that it is for everyone.  Therefore, I believe we should focus on what a person understands or doesn’t, rather than on how old they are.  The proper debate is “what should a person understand before baptism?” not “How old should a person be before they are baptized?”


     In his conclusion, the writer says, “Let’s quit talking to children about baptism and instead teach them to seek the Lord and pursue the knowledge of God.”  Why is that mutually exclusive???  Any thorough teaching of seeking the Lord should include baptism.

     The real issue that causes the situations that trouble the author is not that we are teaching baptism.  It is that there may be a failure to teach and properly understand repentance, obedience, and discipleship.  This applies to children as well as adults.

     Teaching baptism does not relieve us of the obligation to teach repentance, obedience, and discipleship.  Nor does failing to teach baptism mean that we will give proper attention to these ideas.  It would just mean that we have failed to teach yet another important doctrine.

   Should we quit telling children about baptism?  Absolutely, undeniably, unequivocally, indisputably not.  We just need to make sure that it isn’t the ONLY thing that we are teaching them.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hot or Holy?

I recently polled my Facebook friends with the question:

Ladies, if you had to choose from these two options (no cheating by adding a third option), would you rather have your significant other say to you:

1) “Honey, there may have been other women prettier than you, but none of them could hold a candle to your virtue.”
2) “Honey, there were other women who might have been more virtuous, but their beauty simply could not compare to yours.”

Okay, I admit that it is not really a fair question.  No woman would like to hear either of those things.  Both comments would sting.  Neither is recommended for use in actual conversation.  Everyone wants to be found both physically attractive and morally good by their spouse.  That is certainly not unreasonable.  I believe my wife to be both incredibly beautiful and incredibly good.  I guess you could say that I hit the marriage jackpot!

However, if we are brutally honest then we recognize that we all have different sets of strengths and weaknesses.   That means that my wife made a set of value judgments when she chose me.  There were other men that had strength in areas where I have weakness, and I had strengths where perhaps other suitors had weaknesses.  She had to decide what things mattered most to her in a mate.  Fortunately for me, she decided I had enough of the qualities that mattered that she chose to spend her life with me.

What made my question unfair is that it was either/or when it might realistically have been both/and.  But one does have to be more important than the other.   My Facebook friends unanimously agreed that being considered virtuous was more important than being considered pretty (although both would be preferred).   Now this is not a scientific poll and there are glaring weaknesses.  Being a minister, a great percentage of my friends are religiously minded.  Being in my mid-30’s, a large percentage of my friends are already well established in committed relationships and are no longer looking to attract a mate.  Perhaps given the public nature of the forum, nobody would want to choose the more shallow-seeming answer that physical beauty was more important.  But for whatever the reasons, the answer was resounding: Women care more about being seen as virtuous than pretty.

But is this the answer that comes through most clearly from Western society?  What would society be like if everyone universally valued the inside more than the outside?  What would popular magazines promote on their covers – how to be hotter or how to be holier?  If people viewed their virtue as more valuable than their exterior beauty, then would modesty ever be a problem?  What about premarital sex

As far as I know them, all of the women who responded to my question are good women.  I do not doubt their answers at all.  I only wish that what is universal in their answers was actually universal in our world.  I think women and men alike would be not only holier, but also happier if it was.  One of my friends rightly pointed out, “Beauty I have little control over, virtue is what I CHOOSE to be.”    

Those of you that have influence on young people, take every opportunity you can to reinforce that message to them.  Help them to value their choices more than their genetics.  Remind them to prize inner beauty, both in themselves and in others.  When that is universal, what a world this would be!